Kashmir Waits For Hope Tunnel

Kashmir Waits For Hope Tunnel

7 April 2012
Times of India
Dipak K Dash

Jammu: Mild blasts beneath the Patnitop hill and the Peer Panjal range of mountains in Kashmir do not cause panic among the locals anymore. The first few times it did. Now, though, they know that these blasts aren't terror attacks. They are just part of the work needed to build tunnels that will change their lives forever. Over 1,500 engineers, geologists and labourers have been working round the clock since June 2011, burrowing out two sets of twin tunnels which, when completed in 2016, will reduce the distance between the two most important cities of Kashmir - Jammu and Srinagar - by at least 50 km. Travel time, too, will go down by about two-and-ahalf hours. At present, it takes about 10-11 hours to go from one city to the other under normal weather conditions . More importantly for the people of J&K , the tunnels will ensure roundthe-year connectivity between the two major hubs. The tunnels, two each on the Quazigund-Banihal stretch (8.45 km) and the Chenani-Nashri stretch (9 km), are being dug out on the NH1 road that routinely sees traffic being disrupted days on end due to heavy snowfall during winters and landslides in monsoons. That might just be a thing of the past. 'Once we have improved connectivity , we will see greater economic activity in the region,' says Abdul Hamid Punjabi, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 'We need to transport most of the fruits produced here to Jammu and beyond. And for most of our daily needs, we depend heavily on products coming in from Delhi, Maharshtra and other states. It's important for us to have all-weather connectivity on this road, the Valley's only link to the outside world.' Between October and January, Kashmir supplies at least 200 truckloads of apple every day to the rest of the country. The supply of pomegranates and other fruits is also significant from this region. It is widely believed that poor connectivity of Kashmir with the rest of the country has been a major impediment in the growth of the food processing industry in the state. 'The tunnels will boost the setting up of food processing industry. We will see growth of floriculture activities and related industries in a big way as the tunnels will ensure faster movement of perishable products from the valley. All of this will also have indirect financial benefit on other aspects of life in Kashmir,' says Veerender Singh, project director of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) at Srinagar. Tourism, without doubt, will benefit . 'The more time tourists spend at different spots, they will spend more. This has a direct link to people's income both directly and indirectly ,' says Rias Khan, a travel agent based at Patnitop, hopefully. The massive infrastructure work, being undertaken at the cost of Rs 4,500 crore, has already begun to have an impact on the employment opportunities for locals in the vicinity . Besides, it has employed people from other parts of the state, too. ILF&S , which is constructing the Chenani-Nashri tunnel, has already employed over 600 unskilled, semiskilled and skilled youth of the state. This constitutes 94% of the total work force involved in the project. 'About 52% of the total workforce from J&K is unskilled. Their employment for the next four years at the site will have positive impact on their earning. The skill that they learn will make them employable,' says J S Rathore, head of the Chenani-Nashri project. So talked about is the tunnel in J&K these days that ask anyone at the dhabas dotting the highway about it and they say, 'Accha kaam chal raha hai. Hum sab ke liye accha hai (Good work is going on. It'll do all of us a great deal of good).' If there is light at the end of the tunnel anywhere, it is here at NH1.